A self-portrait story
In Conversation with Estelle Chen
On staying grounded and enjoying the process
A Paris native, Estelle Chen was scouted at the age of 14 whilst on a Sunday stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg with her family. Fast forward a few years to 2015 and the French Chinese model was taking the catwalk by storm, walking for Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu and Loewe right off the bat in her debut season. Her burgeoning career would go on to include numerous magazine covers, two Victoria’s Secret runway shows and most recently, starring in self-portrait’s Lunar New Year campaign.
Born in China but growing up in France, Estelle spent her childhood visiting China, “so it feels like home whenever I’m there”. In 2022, she gained further recognition by participating in a Chinese reality TV show alongside some of the biggest names in entertainment. Ending the year on another high, thanks to a long-awaited holiday to Lapland, she’s looking forward with excitement to 2023.
Her new year's resolutions? “To move into my new place and get my driver’s license!” We catch up with Estelle on her career to date and favourite places in Paris, as she prepares to celebrate Lunar New Year with her family. “I love the holiday season, family holds such a big place in my heart and seeing four generations gathered around a big table is so heart-warming and wholesome,” she says.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS FROM YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
I have so many good memories, but I think the most important ones were from my first big season in 2015. Walking the Victoria’s Secret show was always such a big dream of mine so being able to do that twice feels unreal to me!
YOU’VE BEEN APPEARING ON REALITY TV SHOWS IN CHINA, HOW ARE YOU COPING WITH WORKING ACROSS TWO DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES?
The work culture is so different between France and China, but I love both. I was on a reality TV show there last year, where we were filmed 24/7 as participants, so it can be quite hard when you’re not used to it! I can be very shy and getting to know everyone while being recorded was quite stressful. It’s almost the opposite of modelling, where I portray a character, whilst during this TV show I was completely myself.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING IN THIS INDUSTRY HAS BEEN FOR YOU?
To accept that things in life are very often out of your control. When you’re 16, going to 20 castings a day and not being chosen for one is mentally quite hard. I’ve been in this industry for a decade now, and I still find it tough sometimes.
HAS YOUR PERSONAL STYLE CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED MODELLING?
I wouldn’t say it changed but I’m a lot more open to trying new styles that I previously thought I couldn’t pull off. My look really depends on my mood: some days I like being very sporty and dressing like I’m about to go on a 30km trek, and sometimes I like to wear a beautiful dress with 13cm heels just to go to dinner.
My mother always gave me good tips growing up. The most important thing I remember so clearly is that she always forbade me to buy “trendy” things when I was in high school and of course she was right! Having beautiful pieces that are not in fashion is way cooler than having the same thing as everyone else.
WHAT ARE WARDROBE STAPLES YOU CAN’T BE WITHOUT?
A pair of Chelsea boots, some kind of sneakers, a pair of good Japanese denim jeans and a nice fitting white tank top.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG GIRLS WHO WANT TO BREAK INTO THE MODELLING INDUSTRY?
Don’t start too young and stay grounded. Enjoy the process but don’t take it too seriously because modelling is like a lottery sometimes.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT PARIS?
The more I grow up, the more I like this city. The architecture is like nowhere else, and the slow-paced way of life is something I really enjoy. I spend most of my time in the Marais or around Saint-Germain des Près where I meet friends and grab a nice cup of coffee.
WHAT ARE THE BEST PLACES TO SEE, EAT AND SHOP IN PARIS?
You can’t go wrong with the classic sites like the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Georges Pompidou, and Fondation Louis Vuitton and I also love the whole area around the Panthéon. For food, I’m always stopping for quick lunches at Gramme in the Marais, and the casual seafood spot Clamato is a must. I love Japanese food and Paris has so many great options — Abri Soba and Takara are some of the places I would recommend. The Marais is also great for shopping, check out any of the thrift shops there whilst the Broken Arm has such a great curation and the Bon Marché remains the most beautiful, quintessential Parisian department store.
What to wear
Invest in the classics and be the chicest girl about town in a selection of elegant knitwear and relaxed separates.